Vampires, Zombies and Theology

The Undead and Theology. edited by Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, treatment 2012.

The Undead and Theology was, site I thought, my best find at the ETS book exhibit this year. I was really excited about buying this book. And then I started to read it. My enthusiasm was quickly deflated as I read the first two essays, and I was seriously reconsidering my purchase (which for me and books is very rare). To put it bluntly, the first two essays were dreadful. But, I persevered, and if you ignore the first two essays, this book is fantastic.

The book is divided into three parts or themes:  vampires, zombies, and other undead. (For the sake of brevity, I will only be discussing the sections on vampires and zombies. I hope to interact with the “other undead” in a future post).

In the first section there are four essays. The first two essays, “Vampires and Female Spiritual Transformation: Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” by Vicky Gilpin and “Crossing the Spiritual Wasteland in Priest” by Joseph Laycock function no so much as essays looking at the intersection between vampire-lore and theology, but instead are more like essays on religious themes in vampire-lore. These essays were weak, focusing more on describing the story rather than analyzing them in relation to some theological tradition. When they do touch on “theology” it’s more to point out “look here, a religious allusion.” The second essay by Laycock is even worse because on top of it spending most of its time just describing the movie Priest, it is riddled with typos and grammatical errors. The worst example of this, one that calls the author’s expertise into question is his repeated reference to the lead actor in the movie Priest as “Paul Brettany” (his name is Paul Bettany). Frankly put, these first two essays are not even worthy of being published as a series of blog posts let alone being chapters in an edited book.

BUT, saying all of that, there is a dramatic jump in quality in the essays after the first two. Jarrod Longbons’ essay “Vampires are People, Too: Personalism in the Buffyverse” looks specifically at the character of the vampire Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while I wish he would have included the last of Spike’s arc after Buffy season 7 that occurs in Angel season 5, the essay is strong, engaging and actually engages with theology and not just religious themes.

W. Scott Poole’s “The Vampire that Haunts Highgate: Theological Evil, Hammer Horror, and the Highgate Vampire Panic in Britain, 1963-1974” was a fascinating read. Here, Poole looks at the theological and pop-culture factors that led to the very real vampire panic, including the influence of the rise of British evangelicalism including the preaching and writing of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott, as well as the popularity of the Hammer Studios horror movies that were produced starting in 1957. This essay immediately created a new “to do” to add to my list of further reading, namely to read up more about the events that took place at the Highgate cemetery.

The second section on zombies includes four essays. All of these essays are strong, and starts off with a creative essay by Jessica DeCou “The Living Christ and the Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie.” Now of course, you may say that of course I’ll like this essay because DeCou focuses on Barth, but it is more than that.  Instead of a point-by-point analysis, DeCou chooses to instead put herself into the story of the Walking Dead, creating a first-person narrative of a theologian who is trying to survive the zombie apocalypse and her reflections of the events that have happened. Specifically, DeCou’s narrator explores the ethical implications of killing zombies. Are they human? When did they cease to be human? Is it okay to kill them even though at one point they were fully human?

John Morehead’s “Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh” looks at the rising popularity of zombies and what it represents for our North American culture that is increasingly secular in orientation. John Morehead suggests that one of the reasons for the fascination with zombies is the sanitization of death, in that “eventually Western culture shifted from a time in which death was an intimate part of daily experience, to the present period, where most people die in sanitized places removed from the presence and experience even of loved ones.” (pg. 109). Morehead suggests that the phenomenon of Zombie walks “represents an expression of the postmodern eschatological imagination. It draws upon the Christian metanarrative…but also subverts it. The result is that the dead reanimate, but the form of resurrection is one in which personal identity is lost…” (pg. 118)

In “When All is Lost, Gather ‘Round: Solidarity as Hope Resisting Despair in the Walking Dead”, Ashley John Moyse looks at the themes of hope and despair as presented in the t.v. show The Walking Dead.  Moyse argues that the key to defeating despair and cultivating hope is the importance of community. Moyse looks at despair and hope by engaging with not only philosopher Friedrich Nietzche but also with philosopher Gabriel Marcel, and theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Kim Paffenroth’s contribution, “Apocalyptic Images and Prophetic Function in Zombie Films” is a reprinted essay, which may be familiar to readers, but is still a strong addition to this anthology. Here, Paffenroth focuses on the George Romero zombies of the “Night of the Living Dead” series, and argues that what makes zombies so scary is the fact that they are “overwhelmingly ordinary…they are terribly and fully human. This ultimately, I think, is their appeal, for they seem so much more “real” to us than more superhuman monsters, such as vampires and werewolves.” (pg. 147).

The final essay in this section is J. Ryan Parker’s “Negotiating (Non) Existence: Justifications of Violence in Robert Kirkmans’ The Walking Dead”, where he too looks at the ethics of killing zombies, though here he focuses not on the t.v. show, but on the graphic novels that were the inspiration for the popular t.v. show. This essay is the weakest of the zombie essays, but provides a good overview of the graphic novel series and points the reader to several other essays on zombies and violence that are must-reads.

So would I recommend this book? If you skip the first two essays yes. Though, I will say that, in general, the book is in need a more thorough edit, as I found typos even in several of the strong essays. Stay tuned for a post interacting with the last three essays in this book that looks at other examples of undead.


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In Praise of the Geeky Wife

A wife of geeky character who can find? She is worth far more than gold-pressed latinum.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks no season of Doctor Who.

She brings him buffs, capsule not de-buffs, cialis all the days of her life.

She grinds mats and rep and works with eager hands.

She is like Cyrano Jones, bringing her tribbles from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and healing potions for her guildies.

She considers an expansion pack and buys it; out of her earnings she buys comic books.

She sets about her work vigorously; the Force is strong with her (but without the midichlorian thing).

She sees that following the Rules of Acquisition leads to profit, and her lava lamp does not go out at night.

In her hands she holds the bat’leth and grasps the tricorder with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the noobs and extends her hands to the nerdy.

When the Shadows return to Z’ha’dum, she has no fear for her crew, for she is allied with the First Ones.

She makes Starfleet uniforms; she is clothed in command red (TNG>TOS).

Her husband is respected at Comic-Con, where he takes his seat among the gamers.

She makes die-cast models and sell them, and supplies the comic shops with figurines.

She is clothed with the slave Leia metal bikini; she can laugh at the Days of Futures Past.

She speaks Buffyspeak, and she can kill you with her brain.

She watches every zombie film and does not eat the flesh of the living.

Her children arise and call her shiny; her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women do noble things, but no power in the ‘verse can stop you.

Bow ties are cool, and the Star Wars prequels are awful; but a woman who boldly goes where no one has gone before is to be praised.

Give her the fourth pip she has earned, and let her works bring her praise on ‘teh interwebs'”.

When Google Knows You Too Well


A promotional poster for Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men (film)
Of Gods and Men (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The professor that I will be interning under next semester is wanting to incorporate the movie “Of Gods and Men” into his course material as an example of living the cruciform life. Having not seen it, ask I turned to Google. Ah Google. In this case it knows me too well. When I googled “Of Gods and Men” the first offering it gave me was “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men” the 2006 mini-series that was directed by Tim Russ (Tuvok) and starred an abundance of Star Trek alum, case and not the 2010 French film about trappist monks in Algeria. Hmm. I wonder if there is a way to  incorporate Star Trek into my internship. Oh let me count the ways!



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Evangelical Theological Society — Day Two

Wednesday afternoon was a bit of a mixed bag. First up was a great presentation by doctoral student James Gordon on Barth and speculative theology. There were some great post-paper questions raised by the audience. Next up was a very weak paper which was disappointing because the topic was fascinating. The day concluded with a great paper on Irenaeus and his emphasis on teaching catechumens how to read and interpret Scripture.

For supper, sovaldi sale I wandered a bit and found a great pub about a block from the hotel that had great (and cheap) burgers. And then I spent the evening unwinding. (Once again, ask I am reminded why I’m glad I don’t have cable. Commercials are annoying.)

This morning started with an unexpected surprise. William Webb’s presentation was canceled, so on a whim, I decided to pop into Richard Bauckham’s paper on naming practices in Jewish Palestine from 330BC to 200AD. I ended up sitting beside a Briercrest professor who I didn’t even know was going to be at the conference! Yay Briercrest! Next up was a paper on Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom on Baptism by Talbot professor Ashish Naidu, and then on to the presentation by Francis Beckwith on ethics. My final session of the morning was cancelled, but that’s okay because it meant BOOKS!!!

I promised some friends I would post a list of the books I’ve purchased. So here goes:

I bought a three volume set of books on the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall: Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Worshipping with the Church Fathers, and Learning Theology with the Church Fathers.

I bought Zondervan’s Four Views on Christian Spirituality.

I bought Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Clouds of Witness: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

I bought Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. (The school library has this book and it’s one of those ones where I keep signing it out and never actually finishing it. But since I was able to pick it up for $10 now I should have a bit more flexibility to finally finish it).

And the best book purchase ever has to be Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead’s edited book The Undead and Theology. Chapters include (but are not limited to):

Vampires are People, Too: Personalism in the Buffyverse (Jarrod Longbons)

The Living Christ and The Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie (Jessica DeCou)

Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh (John Morehead)

“Eat of My Body and Drink of My Blood”: Johannine Metaphor, Gothic Subculture, and the Undead (Beth Stovell)

I can’t wait to read this book!

The plan for the rest of today is to find some lunch, and then spend the afternoon in the session on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals.

Doctor Who: The Unshot Scene

The last episode of Doctor Who saw the departure of the Ponds. They had been the companion of the newest Doctor, ailment played by Matthew Smith.
The BBC has just released an unshot scene where Rory’s dad finds out what happened to Rory and Amy after their encounter with the Weeping Angels. I wish they had actually shot and included this scene. It adds a great emotional component to the episode that was, pharmacy sorry to say, sadly lacking.

And so, enjoy this scene. If you’re like me, you’ll feel sad at the departure of the Ponds, and even more sad that we have to wait until December for the next episode of Doctor Who.

The Princess Bride — Whedon Style

One of my biggest pet peeves is Hollywood’s insistence on sequels, physician reboots or remakes of perfectly decent movies. There are some movies that should and must be off limits from Hollywood’s lack of creativity. The Princess Bride is one of those movies that must not ever be touched. Ever. But the writer of TPB has been talking about how he’s been trying to write a sequel.

So I’m going to give Hollywood a hand. The only way the Princess Bride should be done again, pilule be it reboot or sequel, is if it is left in the hands of Joss Whedon. And so, I’m putting on my “casting director” hat and give you all the official and only cast list for The Princess Bride reboot. This is largely inspired by the brilliant casting of the soon-to-be-released Much Ado About Nothing.

Westley: Alexis Denisof

Alexis has proved that he can play comedic and swashbuckler. This rogue demon hunter also demonstrated that he can play the lead, as can be seen in his upcoming turn as Benedick in Much Ado.

Buttercup: Felicia Day

Given that Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker have great chemistry, it would have been easy to choose Amy Acker for this role. But at the end of the day Felicia is the better choice. I mean, can’t you picture her saying the epic Buttercup line, “when I say you’re a coward, that is only because you are the slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth.”

Vizzini: Fran Kranz

Fran has proven that he can play the “brain” in his turn as Topher Brink, and his twitchiness and quick wit (see both Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods) would help bring Vizzini to life.

Inigo Montoya: Harry Lennix

Harry Lennix’s turn as Boyd Langton demonstrates that he can play both intense and emotional. Can’t you picture those intense dark eyes staring down Count Rugen, and with a quiet seriousness, Lennix saying THE line: “my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

Fezzik: Marc Blucas

No one can replace Andre the Giant. But if it was re-done Whedon-style than my choice is Marc Blucas. The way that he played Riley, he showed that he could handle a character who is good-hearted but not excessively bright. A good runner-up could also be George Hertzberg, who played the cyber-demon-human Adam in season four of Buffy.

Humperdinck: J. August Richards

Charles Gunn and Wesley Wyndam-Price fought side by side. Wouldn’t it be cool to put the two actors up against each as enemies instead?

Miracle Max & Valerie: Danny Strong & Emma Caulfield

Jonathan and Anya. Together. That is all.

Count Rugen: Nathon Fillion

After turns as Captain Hammer (Dr. Horrible) and Caleb (Buffy) I just love Nathan as the “bad guy.” His ability to play smarmy self-absorption would put a different (but equally funny) spin on the lines about “preparing the definitive work” detailing his “deep and abiding interest in pain”, which Christopher Guest had delivered with a quiet sociopathy.

The Albino: Alan Tudyk

“The pit of despair. Don’t…*cough, hack* don’t even think about trying to escape.”
Alan’s previous roles have encompassed a wide range of characters, from his humourous horror hillbilly role in Tucker & Dale vs Evil to the many faces of Alpha. I’m not sure how he would choose to play Count Rugen’s casually-sadistic lab assistant, but there is no way it would not be brilliant.

Chief Enforcer: Tahmoh Penikett

Tahmoh is awesome.

Clergyman: Tom Lenk

Lenk’s affected way of saying “vampyre” in his role as Andrew (Buffy and Angel) makes him the ideal candidate to talk about “mawwiage.”

The Grandfather: Anthony Stewart Head

Everything is better with Tony Head in it. Runner up for the role of the Grandfather could also go to James Marsters who just turned 50! (when did Spike get so old?)

So there you have it. The Princess Bride remade. This is the only way it can be done. I’ll await my royalty cheque! 🙂